This past Saturday (November 14th, 2009) I ran my first marathon! It was hard. A lot harder then I thought it would be. Fortunately, I kept busy by thinking about how running that marathon was much like doing a startup.
Below are 9 similarities that I identified throughout the run. If you have any other example, please let me know by leaving a comment below.
1) You need to set goals
If you’re doing a startup, you’ve probably set some goals (revenues, customers, product) . For a first time marathoner (as I was) the only goal you should make is the date your going to run, and that you’ll finish no matter what. Many people say they’ll run one someday, I say pick a date and commit. Set that goal today.
2) The beginning is always the best part
Isn’t starting a new company fun? You get to figure out the domain, design a logo, strategize about the business model – no problem. The start of the race (for me, the first 18miles) had the same feeling, it was exciting lining up, I kept a good pace and had no issues. Then things started to change, pains / cramps / a bit of dehydration. I smiled as I thought how startups shared this same feeling.
3) It’s always easier with support
For most startups, it’s your co-founder – maybe for others its your advisory board, or business coach. Either way, having support from someone makes the journey more enjoyable. That’s what I loved best about the people cheering us on all through out the run, then again the group that formed just before the finish line. I always picked up the pace as I ran past these people ;-).
4) The prep-work will have a huge impact
There’s nothing like doing market research before entering an industry to understand how you’re going to compete, and the same goes for a marathon. Do your homework, figure out your training regimen and stick to it. All the prep work you do before will have a huge impact on your results.
5) Things you don’t expect to go wrong, will.
For the longest time, I’ve had knee issues from an accident when I was a teenager. I’ve been worried that it would act up during the race, but the funny thing is that my knee wasn’t what ended up causing me troubles. Instead it was my hips, my right foot and my back tightening up. All things I had no ideas would cause me discomfort. Startups are the same way – shit happens. Things you don’t expect to go wrong will, and it’s how you deal with them that decides if you win or loose.
6) You need to have fun
Startups are awesome because you can have fun even when times are tough – because sometimes you just need to smile. Marathons are no different. At mile 23.5 I came up to an aid station in pain, and m-a-n was I SORE .. so I smiled to the guy next to me and said “Wow, this is pretty hard, eh?” smiling.. cause I thought it was a funny thing to say. He looked at me confused and answer “of course it is.” – either way, I laughed. Sometimes when things are tough, you just need to laugh and have some fun – just keep pushing forward and enjoy the journey.
7) You’re crazy just to think you can do it.
Only 1/10th of a percent of the population will run a marathon. Why? Because it’s freakin’ hard! Mentally and physically. Some that try, don’t finish, and many that do, complete with injury. Startups are no different. The failure rate is high, the odds are against you – but still we do them. We must be a little bit crazy, right? I think so ;-).
8 ) Running out of money (water) is very bad!
Either you stop at Aid stations along the way, or you stock water and food as needed. A typical marathoner burns 4000+ calories during the run, and much like a startup you need to insure you have resources available throughout the startup. Typically this is capital and/or customers. Be sure to plan for both, if you run out, you’ll fail.
9) It’s a mental game
Others have talked about the Entrepreneurial Pendulum, or the Emotional Rollercoaster in doing a startup, and I would suggest that running a marathon is no different. At the beginning you’ll feel great, then things start to hurt, and eventually its unpleasant, with moments of traction (it gets better for while). You find a rhythm, only to slow down when it just hurts too much (but you don’t stop!). That’s how startups feel sometimes – it’s mostly mental, a competition against your thoughts. Were all capable of way more than we give ourselves credit for.
You don’t get what you want, you get what you believe.